wed 27/05/2020

Album: Moses Sumney - græ | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Moses Sumney - græ

Album: Moses Sumney - græ

Liquid R&B and tender masculinity as a questing singer seeks a clean gender slate

Moses Sumney’s second album is a double, and splits and nuances in gender, sexuality and identity define its fluid nature.

Moses Sumney’s second album is a double, and splits and nuances in gender, sexuality and identity define its fluid nature. A 28-year-old Ghanaian-American who grew up as an outsider in both countries, Sumney is most interested in removing masculinity’s hard shell, and touching the tenderness beneath.

The sensitively quavering male voice has become a grating indie cliché, but Sumney’s potently polymorphous falsetto is something else. This is soul holding forth in the confession booth, and indie rock locked in a brimming bedroom. Sometimes it’s beatlessly unemphatic, bonelessly liquid R&B. Vocal rhythms have a jazzy squeeze and release, and layered harmonies billow, often ending overwhelmed by waves of sound.  On “Gagarin”, where water drips as if in a film noir alley or sex dungeon, and cymbals splash around romantic piano, the jazz tradition becomes sub-aqueous, its title’s cosmonaut exploring inner space. “Neither/Nor”, meanwhile, is acoustic folk with Bert Jansch-like Eastern inflections, and “Polly” almost child-like psychedelic pop, combining innocence and melting sexual experience.

James Blake’s hyper-sensitive sound-world is only a faint analogy. Prince’s borderless realm is philosophically closer, especially “If I Was Your Girlfriend” on his own sprawling double-album, Sign ‘O’ the Times, which turned straight sex into a playfully perverse Moebius loop. Sumney leaves his sexuality undefined, only concerning himself with how it feels. Critics of identity politics sometimes forget that identity is often imposed – Black Lives Matter is needed because racist murders keep showing they don’t – and blackness and maleness are equally, cleanly deconstructed. The writer Taiye Selasi’s spoken-word interludes are occasionally precious. But on “Boxes” she asks black men and women to consider “who gave them the definition, and to write those definitions for themselves”. Sumney doesn’t need to be told.

Græ’s first half was released earlier this year. The second part intimately confides visions of loneliness, and this preacher’s son goes deeper into spirituality with the complex gospel finale of “Bless Me”, and its aching acceptance of loss. Death, God and love are here entwined in ambiguity. Despite a rarefied lack of tunes, Sumney’s swim in deeper currents is a gripping voyage of discovery.

Sumney is most interested in removing masculinity’s hard shell, and touching the tenderness beneath

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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